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Ontario is moving to improve how it investigates police shootings

Ontario moves to overhaul how it investigates police shootings

The government of Ontario is overhauling how the province’s police watchdogs investigate officers, after years of public outcry.

Ontario will be publishing reports of past investigations into situations where civilians have died at the hands of police, and creating a process to make all future reports publicly available, Attorney General Yasir Naqvi announced on Thursday.

The move, which will significantly change how the province’s police investigation body operates, comes after years of public outcry over how cops are investigated. It was just one of many recommendations made in a report, released Thursday, written by a sitting judge. It is one of the recommendations, however, that the Kathleen Wynne government is moving forward with immediately.

The government will begin publishing reports on every police-involved death dating back to the inception of the SIU in 1990. Reports from 2005 to present will be available by the end of this year, while reports on incidents from 1990 to 2004 will be made available by the summer of 2018, barring any objections from families of victims.

“The public needs to know whether the SIU is doing the job it is supposed to be doing.”

The government has also committed to mandating the collection of race-based data, introducing new legislation for Ontario’s police oversight system — separate from the Police Services Act — and increasing “cultural competency,” especially as it relates to Indigenous culture, by training staff and through targeted recruitment.

Justice Michael Tulloch released his report on Thursday, calling for 129 changes to the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), which probes incidents involving police that result in injury or death; the Office of the Independent Police Review Director, which investigates complaints about police; and the Ontario Civilian Police Commissions, which hears complaints against chiefs and police boards and appeals from other tribunals.

The recommendations also include releasing detailed reports whenever criminal charges are not laid against a police officer following an investigation — a key demand made by critics who have been calling for greater transparency following a series of high profile deaths at the hands of police.

The judge recommended that reports contain, among other things, a summary of the investigative process, including a timeline; any relevant video, audio, and photographic evidence; along with the reason for the director’s decision not to lay charges.

“The public needs to know whether the SIU is doing the job it is supposed to be doing,” said the report. “For the SIU to fulfil its purpose, then, it is crucial that it shares what it has done and how it has made decisions.”

One of the touchiest issues in how Ontario investigates police use of force is around whether or not the officers in question should be named publicly. Tulloch recommends keeping the status quo of not naming the officers unless they are charged, writing that it wouldn’t improve transparency “in a meaningful way.” Officers would be named, however, if a coroner determines an officer’s use of force contributed to someone’s death, even if an SIU investigation doesn’t result in charges being laid.

Tulloch has also suggested widening the SIU’s mandate to allow them to investigate people other than cops, including auxiliary members of the police forces, special constables, and former police officers, and to investigate all incidents of firearms being discharged when they’re directed at a person. Tulloch also found that the SIU should also be able to lay criminal charges related to anything uncovered during their investigations.

The report also recommends that no more than half of the investigators employed by the SIU be former police officers.

Tulloch called on the SIU to conclude all investigations within 120 days, hire more personnel from underrepresented communities, and improve support services for complainants and family members, as well as police officers and their family members.

While the province has promised to collect “race-based data,” it hasn’t responded to Tulloch’s full recommendation, to report the gender, age, race, religion, mental health status, and disability of the victims, as well as racial information.

Tulloch proposed giving more resources to the SIU to create a public accountability office, legislate the kind of information and evidence they’d be entitled to receive during an investigation, and allow them to charge people for failing to cooperate with an investigation.

The report also recommends that no more than half of the investigators employed by the SIU be former police officers.

Read the full report from Justice Michael Tulloch

Tulloch has also proposed that the province’s independent review body directly investigate public complaints against police officers, instead of referring them back to the police agencies, and keep track of officers who have faced multiple complaints. The office should also eliminate the 6-month timeframe currently in place to lay a disciplinary charge, said the report.

In a statement, SIU Director Tony Loparco welcomed the report, but said the unit would need “some time to fully and carefully consider the contents of the report before making any further comment.”

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